View Full Version : 130 years after Kafka's birth

07-20-2013, 10:17 AM

Kafka was born on the third day of July, 1883, in Prague which was then the second most important city of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. His parents were jewish, and his father had immigrated from the czech countryside to the center of Bohemia when he was young, attempting with much strife to better his horrible financial conditions. This he did succeed in, and when Franz was born the family was already reasonably rich, which enabled him to study at good schools and then attend university.

Although Franz first started studying Chemistry, half a month later he switched to Law, which allowed him to still keep being on the track his father seemed to have wanted, and at the same time study humanities, like the ancient classics and german literature, particularly Goethe.

After the end of his studies he got hired at an insurance company, and later on the Worker's Accident Insurance Institute, which was the largest insurance entity in Bohemia, itself the most industrialised part of the Habsburg Empire.

Two years before Franz obtained his Law degree, he wrote his first surviving work, although only a small part of it was ever made public in two magazines, and some was also read in meetings with friends. Kafka had met Max Brod during his university years, and together they visited many of the literary circles of Prague. The first work mentioned was the "Description of a Struggle", written in 1904. The Description of a Struggle is a short story which Brod had named as "a wonderful prelude of what was to follow", although while reading it is perhaps more evident that Kafka at the time was not yet depicting his particular type of long allegory. The story features possibly more extreme imagery than the work that came later.


1912 was a very important year for Kafka. He was 29, and only just got his first published book. It was a collection of very short stories, titled Betrachtung (ussually it is translated as Contemplation), which comprised of many old works as well. Perhaps the two most striking stories in the collection is the very short piece titled "The wish to be a red-Indian", and the larger story named "Unhappiness". In the latter Kafka for the first- and final- time uses a metaphysical object as a symbol, making it part of his story. It is - or appears to be- the story of a person who is visited by a child-ghost. The story has an unmistakable first paragraph that sets the tone for the rest.

In the 22nd of September of that year he wrote, in one attempt which seems to have lasted for a number of hours till early dawn, the short story "Das Urteil" (The Judgement). Up to that point it was clearly his favorite work, and he kept the view that it was one of his best stories even years later.

Some time later, before the end of the year, Franz began working on one of his most famous creations. It was the small novel Metamorphosis (Die Verwandlung in the original), in which the protagonist is a person who gets transformed into a human-sized insect. The story is built in its first chapter very much like a theatretical play, with closed doors all around the room of Gregor Samsa- the man who suffered the metamorphosis- and others trying to communicate with him and to get him to unlock the door. Kafka himself considered the story to have been his bleakest creation yet, although he rarely mentions it again in later parts of his diary.

Other published works

In 1914, some months after the Great War had started, Kafka wrote another of his darkest works, the short story "In the Penal Colony". It can be regarded as his most violent and dark piece. It was first published after the war.

Finally, near the end of his life, his story "The hunger-artist", another examination of the suffering artist who denies external influences- and even food- so as to search in vain for recognition of his art, was published. Along with The Metamorphosis, the Judgement, the collection titled Contemplation and two other collections, A country Doctor, and A Hunger Artist (the last shortly after Franz died) were all of his works he designed for publication and mostly saw them in book form.

Works which remained after his death

The majority of Kafka's literary production was not published during his lifetime. In fact he seems to have asked Max Brod to burn every piece of paper he would find, and also if possible to collect all that was published and destroy it as well. Along those works were three novels, Amerika, The Trial, and The Castle, numerous shorter prose pieces, many incomplete short stories, and the diary of Franz Kafka.

Notable past authors who were influenced by Kafka

Although during his lifetime it seems that the only famous author he had sometimes dealed with was Robert Muzil, it is also noted that Rilke was impressed by some of his stories as well.
After WW2 Kafka's work became rapidly famous, influencing many writers like Albert Camus, Sartre, and at a later stage of their creation also Hesse, Thomas Mann and J.L. Borges.


Franz Kafka died in 1924. He had been suffering from tuberculosis of the lung for many years by then. Himself he was of the view that this illness was brought by his mental problems and endless self-reproaches. He seems to have ultimately destroyed his own self. His troubled relationship with his father was never resolved, despite a large letter he wrote to him near the end of his life, but never sent it. Kafka often seemed to suffer from various acute psychological troubles, he sometimes was of the view that his body was hiddeous, and almost always thought that his body was too weak to function properly. Hypochondria later on gave way to more dangerous preoccupations with his somatic as well as mental state. He seems to have ordered his own death, from a lethal injection, urging the man who injected him with the words "Kill me, or you will be a murderer"...

Still, even so many years after his birth and death, and with only a generally small amount of works printed, Kafka appears to have already taken his place in the pantheon of European and Global literature as one of the main authors of the 20th century. And if literature always evolved, and may include even more impressive figures than Franz in the future, we can always fall back on one of his own statements, that "the decisive moment in the human evolution is constant"...